Our Consultancy and Innovation Manager, Hannah Gardiner, has been working with Big Local areas who are taking over and managing land in their areas. Here she reflects on her initial research, following which a support package has been prepared, that will be delivered over the next twelve months.
Over the past 6 months I have been lucky enough to spend time working with Big Local areas through Local Trust. I have seen many areas of the country which for years have been under served, and have been inspired by the energy and vigour of those who are bringing them to life from the ground up.
Our focus is on supporting areas who want to take on and manage land assets, and there are amazing success stories out there already, such as Arches Big Local whose only park in the neighbourhood was overgrown and plagued by antisocial behaviour including drug dealing – typical of spaces which have been left unmanaged. They’ve cleared the land, put in a playground and held many events there. It’s now a well used park, they even have a weekly ‘litter and natter’ session where local people come to pick up litter and have a chat. Stephen Perez (from Arches Big Local) said “We’re in the politics of doing things not the politics of politics”. Visiting the well presented park, high up overlooking the otherwise concrete neighbourhood, and seeing children happily playing where once people wouldn’t have wanted to go, I could feel how this kind of space could catalyse the change.
During the initial research I found that the majority of activities being considered are amenity type provision; stepping in where it is not provided, and also trying to add value to existing provision. This may reflect the timing of the Big Local programme, which commenced as austerity was kicking in and the fiscal and civic landscape changed significantly.
“I think because of cuts, there’s more and more opportunities for groups like us to take [assets] over for the benefit of everyone” – Big Local Chair
Although many who I spoke to identified the land based project as adding value by stepping up to fill provision that is not there, they also stated aspirations to achieve multiple benefits through it such as job creation or tackling social isolation. This tendency for communities to ‘sweat’ the social value of assets where local authorities may see liabilities, is an indication of why community management of assets – such as parks and woodlands – has been gaining popularity over the last years. The lack of meeting places identified may also be considered to be a contributor to the reported lack of community cohesion in some places prior to the Big Local programme. Green spaces can provide a great neutral ground, identified as adding value by enaBig Localing people to meet each other. But beyond that the act of taking control and creating a sense of pride and ownership is important.
“Big Local is about giving people a voice, we want the community involved in the planning, co-ownership, co-design; anything that gives people a voice in what’s going on. These land projects would send a message. Without coming here and looking it’s hard to explain, none of the developments that are going on here have the intentions of the community at the front, so whether it’s by taking ownership or at least being part of the conversation, that can change that” – Big Local Worker
Over the next 12 we will be supporting 5 Big Local areas to realise their ambitions, more details on the exciting and inspirational projects they are running to follow.
I am also writing a reflective essay placing land management in Big Local areas in the context of austerity and the localism act. This will be launched in June so keep an eye on the blog and newsletter for more details.
For more inspiration on land based social enterprise please see the 12 case studies we captured in previous work here